June 24, 2020 | By Hope C. Michelson

Featured Commentary - A "Resilient" Food System Built on Systemic Vulnerabilities

Editor's Note: Agri-Pulse and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs are teaming up to host a monthly column to explore how the US agriculture and food sector can maintain its competitive edge and advance food security in an increasingly integrated and dynamic world.

Images of COVID-related shocks to the American food system have stunned many of us: long lines of cars waiting at foodbanks; farmers dumping milk and burying onions and cabbages to compost back into the soil; empty shelves at grocery stores.  The ironies are blunt: too much supply in some places, but too little on the shelves in others. 

The food system has weathered these shocks impressively well, but the past months have also revealed structural vulnerabilities that we must attend to. Returning to “normal” is not good enough.

For many American consumers, food production and distribution tends to function seamlessly, providing stable quantities at consistent prices; most of us pay scant attention to how it works. We have taken for granted its production, its logistics, its labor force, its 24/7 coordination across time and space.

Our seamless domestic food system is not the global norm; food systems do not function smoothly and are not expected to in many countries, especially in low income countries characterized by lots of small-scale farming. The certainty of our own country’s low food prices and stable food supply is something of a marvel for what it accomplishes on a daily basis, especially in this crisis. It is efficient at its objectives; and its over-arching objectives are low cost and omni-present food. Yet our food system is also characterized by acute global and regional inequities in the production and distribution of food, the co-existence of hunger and plenty. 

Since the middle of March, however, food systems have had to respond to rapid changes. American consumers have been paying more attention.

>>>Read the full article at Agri-Pulse. 


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days

Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

The Global Food Banking Network

Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA


| By Roger Thurow

Our New Gordian Knot

Fifty years ago Dr. Norman Borlaug recieved the Nobel Peace Prize for cutting the "Goridan knot" of population and food production. Now the planet faces another seemingly intractable problem: how to nourish the planet while preserving the planet. 

| By Janet Fierro

Guest Commentary - Rural Niger Women find Opportunity and Hope through Innovative Business Model

When researchers set out to find natural ways to manage a crop-destroying pest in sub-Saharan Africa cowpea fields they knew the results could have significant positive impact on smallholder farmers. What they may not have expected was the significance of the cottage industry it inspired and the entrepreneurial spirit of the rural women of Niger who led it.